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The History and Importance of Free Press

Updated: Jan 15, 2021

By Clara Pressey

Image via CNN

The free press has been a cornerstone of an open society in many countries for centuries. Even in the modern-day, it is how citizens are able to get information about domestic policy, foreign affairs, and a number of other issues. In the time between then and now, it’s changed drastically, through the introduction of radio, then television, and then social media.

Without investigative journalism, Upton Sinclair wouldn’t have written The Jungle, thereby exposing the horrors of Chicago meat-packing plants. Seymour Hersh wouldn’t have brought to light the My Lai Massacre. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wouldn’t have broken the Watergate Scandal. Many people would be left in the dark about the actions of their own government and the society they live in, not just in the U.S., but around the world.

The public wouldn’t have known about those horrors of Chicago meat-packing plants, that violent massacre during the Vietnam War, or that particular brand of corruption of the Nixon administration. And, subsequently, lawmakers and prosecutors wouldn’t have been forced to take action against them. People can’t act or encourage action if they don’t know what’s going on.

Just last month, people watched with bated breath as America made a major decision. The analysts and reporters that held our hands through those five torturous days (like Steve Kornacki) became Twitter sensations, on top of their professional success. And it makes sense. Steve Kornacki didn’t become America’s journalistic sweetheart just because he seemed relatable and like a decent person, it happened because he was working tirelessly to keep us up-to-date, and wasn’t being coy about it.

In short, having a free press in a country not only keeps people informed, but it is also a stronghold against complacency. It keeps people engaged. If there weren’t reporters hounding our leaders for the facts, or TV news hosts making sure that we know everything that they know, we would lose valuable opportunities to examine our world and to go forth and try to change it.

However, while some sources lean obviously to one side of every argument, there are still greater threats to the free press than bias.

In the Philippines, journalistic integrity is currently under direct attack. Journalist Maria Ressa was named a Person of the Year by Time in 2018 and then faced libel charges from the Filipino government.

In the U.S., President Donald Trump has repeatedly attempted to discredit the media and slandered reporters for telling the truth. ICE just subpoenaed BuzzFeed News in an effort to get them to reveal sources.

According to Reporters Without Borders, 40 journalists and three media assistants were killed in 2020. Currently, 260 journalists, 122 citizen journalists, and 12 media assistants are imprisoned around the world.

These threats expose dangers within a nation. When journalists are prosecuted by a country’s government for doing their jobs and telling the truth, it shows that the government is attempting to hide information and ideas from their constituents.

We ought to honor journalists for trying to bring forward this information despite the risks, but there shouldn’t be those risks in the first place.

Remember that the free press is one of the most important concepts in society. And, if you ever need reminding, you’re reading this article on a website where young people write about things that matter to them, without a filter. Isn’t that pretty darn cool?

Written by writer Clara Pressey

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